Much is made about our shrinking work force driven by the out-migration of young adults following graduation and the often-cited flight of wealth to warmer climates. Regardless of the reason, Vermont is ‘greying’ faster than most other states. This trend, left unchecked, will be our economic undoing. I am often asked what can be done to stem the tide and renew the economic fundamentals that support a thriving economy. First, despite the anti-refugee rhetoric that has sparked debate in certain parts of Vermont, one step is to welcome this new wave of immigrants as we did the waves of immigrants flowing to Vermont since the 1800’s. Thankfully, the second is less controversial and has tremendous potential to provide economic benefits while creating a culture that embraces inclusion.
Women’s Business Ownership and the Vermont Economy, a recent report released by Change The Story, an initiative fueled by the Vermont Women’s Fund, Vermont Works for Women, and Vermont Commission on Women points to a quietly growing Vermont reality. It is a trend that screams out for attention. That trend is the rise in women owned businesses and their passion for entrepreneurship. This demographic is seeing growth across all sectors even those in non-traditional fields.
Today in Vermont, women own and operate over twenty-three thousand businesses that have created over thirty-six thousand jobs. While these companies tend to be small, they nonetheless contribute over two billion dollars to our economy. Some may be inclined to think that these are simply ‘boutique’ enterprises. The truth is that they represent the spectrum of enterprises ranging from the construction trades to technology companies. Many are independent owner-operators mirroring the traditional core of Vermont’s free enterprise ethic: the desire to set one’s own schedule and to determine for whom one works. In terms of growth potential, this most recent study showed that if only one in four women-owned non-employer firms hired one additional worker, the result would be over five thousand new jobs added to the workforce!
Revenue for Vermont’s women owned enterprises now outpaces their counterparts in other states. The growth in sheer numbers between 2007 and 2012 show women owned businesses growing at 15% while male owned business grew at 6%. There is no question that women are taking the risks and going against stereotypes in striking out on their own. They are willing to bet on themselves, their skills and their business sense. The business community and state needs to help this growing economic engine succeed.
Everyone working to solicit or sustain business must look at the policies in our traditional toolbox and ask if what we are doing will nurture new start-ups or aid in their expansion. To grow jobs and our economy, we must first look inward. There are things that we can do differently. Let’s ensure that women business owners are at the table at business forums. We should use all media platforms to feature the success stories that abound. Growing this demographic will require that we ensure women of all ages understand that there is a path for them to follow. As we learned at the recent ‘Tech Talk’, new entrepreneurs have a hard time finding the resources available to help them succeed, including financing options. We need to make them aware and make sure they are equally accessible.
Finally, let’s accept that traditional ways of doing things might have to be modified to accommodate the reality that over 30% of Vermont women are breadwinners, and many still hold a large share of the caregiving responsibility in their families. We have to be open to the idea that adjusting our schedules to accommodate changing work and family patterns benefits both men and women.
There is no magic bullet that will keep people, young or old, in Vermont. Our collective responsibility is to recognize potential and nurture it. The most recent studies show that women owned enterprises can have a demonstrable effect on the economic health of Vermont and act as an inducement for people to stay and grow a business here. It’s worth the effort to make it work.
Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce